Boston High School: Mike Hershman

Defense does it for Mansfield

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
8:56
PM ET


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mansfield made a living off of their vaunted and talented offense this year, but it was the defense that won them the Division 2 state championship against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest focus for Mansfield coach Mike Redding coming into the game was game-planning for St. John’s dual-threat quarterback Andrew Smiley, an offensive player of the year candidate who has torched opposing defenses this year with his feet as well as his arm.

“Oh man, he’s a great athlete, we knew we had our hands full with him and Combs running the zone read, they do that so well and they keep you honest with the four great receivers,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said.

Smiley has found his deep core of receivers early and often this year, especially junior Davon Jones and seniors T.J. Kelley and Mike McGillicudy. On Saturday though, Jones and McGillicudy were only able to pull in a combined three catches for 22 yards. Smiley, who threw two interceptions and scored a rushing touchdown, was able to muster just 80 total yards.

“The goal was to try to get six in the box to handle the run game, we tried to double Davon Jones because he’s an exceptional athlete. Then we got away from that and we got seven in the box because of the run game and to mix it up,” Redding said, “we played man, we played zone, we mixed in some blitzes. If you stay with any one thing their coordinator and their guys will eat you alive. They hit us now and then and we bent a little at times but never broke, never gave up the big one, and really played tough in the red zone.”

Michael Hershman, who has been playing the majority of this year with a sports hernia, picked Smiley off in the second quarter to help the Hornets stay in it after five first half turnovers—which resulted in a 14-7 halftime lead for the Pioneers. Mike Barresi intercepted a Smiley pass of his own early in the third quarter, initiating an 89-yard drive that brought the Hornets back to 14-13.

“To have five turnovers and only be down seven, we felt good about things at halftime. I thought the big thing in the third quarter was if they scored next then we were in trouble. We were trying to get a stop, we had to get the next one, then Barresi makes the pick and we punch it in. It’s a whole new game, you’ve got your confidence back, you’ve got momentum,” Redding said.

St. John’s was held scoreless after halftime—managing just over 100 total yards in the final two quarters. Shane Combs finished with 100 yards on 14 carries on the afternoon for the Pioneers, one of the lone bright spots for St. John’s in the second half.

“We’ve thrown the ball very well, but tonight it was defense and it was running the football. Bottom line, to win championships you have to do both of those—our O-line did a great job blocking and we threw a little bit, but we just didn’t have to,” Redding said, “to shut them out in a half, I don’t think they’ve been shut out all year, just an unbelievable defensive effort. Mark DeGeronimo just made this young defense so good over the course of the year—it won us a championship today.”

Smiley, a Navy lacrosse commit, received high praise from Redding after the game for his play this year, as well as a very bright future waiting for him:

“The thing I’m most proud of playing against a guy like that who goes off to Navy to play lacrosse, he’s gonna serve his country. It’s so neat to compete against young men like this who are great athletes and will be doing even bigger things after high school.”


Tale of the Tape: St. John's vs. Mansfield

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
2:09
AM ET
Ahead of Saturday's six MIAA Football State Championships at Gillette Stadium, today we are bringing back our "Tale of the Tape" series to break down each participating team's matchups headed into the game.

In the Division 2 Final, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan Hall and Scott Barboza take a closer look at Central champ St. John's and South champ Mansfield, respectively.

MIAA Division 2 State Championship
ST. JOHN'S (9-3) vs. MANSFIELD (12-0)
at Gillette Stadium, 1:30 p.m.


When St. John’s has the ball: Be prepared for a blitzkrieg. In these playoffs, the Pioneers are averaging 49.7 points per game -– including 51 or more points in all three of their Division 2 Central contests –- and an unheard-of 482.5 yards of offense, both bests among teams playing on Saturday. Much has been made over the past two years of the Oregon-like offense they’ve installed, looking to push a hyperactive tempo that is nearly unmatched across Massachusetts, and at the forefront of this offensive renaissance has been quarterback and Navy lacrosse commit Andrew Smiley (170-for-245, 2,368 yards, 28 TD, 4 INT; 97 carries, 866 yards, 12 TD). A true dual-threat quarterback, he has perfected the zone read, and demonstrated the ability to make difficult throws in tight windows throughout the state tournament. Smiley left the Thanksgiving matchup with St. Peter-Marian with a shoulder injury, but he is expected to play on Saturday.

A critical part of the Pioneers’ passing game is predicated on finding weak spots in the defense and sitting in the holes, creating a short but fluid rhythm that allows them to keep the chains moving and therefore play fast. In accomplishing this, they may package any number of screens and route combinations on the backside of zone read plays. It’s hard to ascertain who is truly the key receiver in the passing game: Mike McGillicuddy (46 catches, 817 yards, 10 TD), master of the underneath routes; senior T.J. Kelly (30 catches, 502 yards, 6 TD), a prominent basketball forward who can take the safeties deep off the ball; or junior Davon Jones (46 catches, 634 yards, 7 TD), a freakish athlete with a 40-inch vertical, who high-points balls like few others in the state.

Arguably the most crucial element, however, has been their ability to run the ball effectively in these playoffs – and not just with Smiley, who can pull the ball and slip through the first line of defense with his lacrosse-bred running skills. Junior tailback Shane Combs (149 carries, 1,143 yards, 15 TD), a Notre Dame baseball commit, has been incremental in these playoffs, going over the century mark in all four playoff games for a total of 524 yards and 10 touchdowns. As the season has progressed, Combs has transformed from fleet-footed to bullish, a tough downhill runner who can keep his legs churning after first contact.

When Mansfield has the ball: Wednesday's state championship breakfast at Gillette Stadium was dominated by the news that Hornets tight end Brendan Hill, their leading receiver on the season, will miss the game after an ACL injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day against Foxborough. While the loss of an All-State caliber receiver is never a positive, Mansfield still has dangerous targets on the outside to choose from. However, instead of spreading out the ball distribution, an increased number of targets (and the Pioneers' defensive scheming) will shift to Mike Hershman (37 catches, 645 yards, 6 TD) and Kyle Hurley (21 catches, 311 yards, 4 TD).

Leading us to the real X-factor of Saturday's game, which is what does Miguel Villar-Perez have left in the tank? The Hornets' leading rusher (890 yards, 11 TD) has been hobbled in recent weeks and was again banged up during their Thanksgiving game. Also, a dependable pass-catcher out of the backfield and in the slot, Villar-Perez has given Mansfield its dynamism on offense and, with Hill already out of the picture, its imperative that Mansfield maximize his snaps despite perhaps playing at less than 100 percent. If not ready to go, expect a greater dose of senior running back Chris Buchanan out of Mansfield's heavy sets.

Yet, for all the seeming uncertainty now surrounding the Hornets leading in, the constant has been senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski. Throughout the season, Wisnieski has completed passes at clip of greater than 65 percent, including a very strong postseason run. The supremely efficient passer has also held on to the ball, with a touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio of greater than 5:1 (27 TD, 5 INT).

When St. John’s is on defense: Judging from the scores this fall, one may get the impression this is a suspect defense. All but one opponent has put up double-digits on the Pioneers; nine have reached the 20’s, and three have eclipsed 30. But some of that may be due in part to the type of offense the Pioneers run. With such quick offensive drives, that leads to more possessions for the opposition, which has often led to shootouts this season.

But that isn’t to take away from what has been an athletic unit. At the forefront is the junior Jones, a three-year starter who has gone over 100 tackles for the second straight season (108 tackles, 7 INT, 5 TFL, 3 forced fumbles). Often playing as a high free safety, Jones covers a lot of ground in the deep field, and has developed a reputation as a violent hitter. Occasionally, the Pioneers will split the deep field with Jones and Smiley (3 INT), who made one of the playoffs’ most acrobatic feats with a one-handed interception to ice the Central/West semifinal win over favored Springfield Central.

In the front seven, the Pioneers aren’t overbearing, but they are definitely quick, led by linebackers Patch Ryan (105 tackles, 2 INT, 2 forced fumbles) and Alex Pappas (108 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks). Keep a special eye on defensive end Jeff DeMango (68 tackles, 12 TFL, 8 sacks, 6 passes deflected), who demonstrates exceptional hand skills that are usually good for a batted pass or two.

When Mansfield is on defense: The Hornets' success on defense stems from its interior line, with a couple of underrated pluggers in Andrew Horstmann and Dhruv Patel. Their inside gap responsibilities will be put to the test with Combs and Smiley working the option game. But recent history sides with the Hornets, who held Barnstable's Hayden Murphy to just 21 rushing yards in the teams' Div. 2 South playoff game. Also, on the line, Steve Zieselman has enjoyed a strong senior season, earning Hockomock League All-Star honorers as a dependable two-way contributor, as well as John Keefe (56 tackles).

Junior linebacker Q'Ra Guichard has quietly led the Hornets in tackles (58 solo) to date, but last year's returning top tackler Alex Ruddy has caught up with 56 tackles, despite missing several games to start the season.

Not only will the loss of Hill set back Mansfield's passing game, the Hornets also lost their top pass rusher. Hill leads the team with 7.5 sacks.

Hornets senior Mike Barresi could draw the coverage assignment on Davon Jones, as Barresi leads the team with six passes defended.

Video: Mansfield vs. North highlights

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
6:55
PM ET
Editor Scott Barboza checks in with highlights from No. 2 Mansfield's 35-14 win over Hockomock rival North Attleborough on Friday night in our Game of the Week:

(Highlights produced by Greg Story)


Recap: No. 2 Mansfield 35, North Attleborough 14

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
11:30
PM ET


MANSFIELD, Mass. – Mansfield coach Mike Redding is like a kid in a toy store.

But unlike a kid who has an abundance of toys from which to choose, Redding has an abundance of offensive weapons that are designed to dissect the opposition.

That was the case – again – Friday night as the defending Hockomock League champion and No. 2-ranked Hornets began league play by belting North Attleborough, 35-14.

“Miguel (Villar-Perez) is very valuable,” Redding said of one of his weapons. “He’s a good receiver and a really good runner.

“With Mike Hershman and Brendan Hill out there to cover, you have to line up your defense to take away the pass and it opens up things for Miguel, Chris Buchanan and Matt Bukuras. We really have five good skill kids out there. It’s kind of a rare treat for a coach to be able to call plays for five different guys and they all can make plays. We’re developing some nice balance with all five skill guys contributing.”

After opening their Kelley-Rex division slate with a win, Redding talked about the Hornets’ intent to become a more diversified offense.

“That’s what it takes in this league,” Redding said. “If you try to get the ball to one guy too much you’re going to end up getting beat sooner or later. We have the five guys and we’re trying to spread it around.”

Bombs away: The only Hornet not mentioned above was senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, who completed 11-of-16 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns (sans interceptions).

Wisnieski and Hershman were never better than on two plays, one near the end of the second quarter and the other midway through the fourth.

Mansfield was leading 14-7 when Wisnieski guided an eight-play, 81-yard drive that culminated with him throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Hershman.

Then, with Mansfield up 21-7 and facing a third-and-nine on the Rocketeers 23, Wisnieski unloaded a pass to Hershman who was so wide-open in the end zone he had time to write a term paper before snaring the ball.

“It was a combination of a lot of things,” Wisnieski said while explaining why Hershman was so wide-open. “They were coming with a lot of heat all night. They were blitzing linebackers. The line did a great job of picking up the blitzes and that’s where it started.

“We got lucky. With Brendan out there, he’s obviously going to draw a lot of attention. On the first touchdown they tried to man-up Mike and that’s going to be a tough match-up for anyone to cover Mike one-on-one. He was able to beat them on the inside. On the second touchdown, they were all over Brendan and Mike just came free.”

“Wis’ does a great job running the show,” Redding said. “He’s smart. He’s poised. He handles pressure and does a lot of great things for us. I thought the big one was when they scored and we were able to answer at the end of the half (i.e. the 28-yard TD pass to Hershman). That was the drive that kind of kept them at arms’ length.”

Moving the pile: One Green Hornet who drove through North Attleborough’s defense all night was Villar-Perez, who gained 114 yards and scored twice on 14 carries.

Villar-Perez, in fact, scored Mansfield’s first touchdown when he capped a six-play, 70-yard drive by taking a pitchout and sprinting 15 yards to the end zone.

Then, late in that first quarter, Mansfield capitalized on a short North Attleborough punt and Villar-Perez wedged into the end zone from the 2 for a 14-0 lead.

The Rocketeers countered with a four-yard touchdown pass from James Kummer to Mike Lambert.

But Wisnieski’s 28-yarder to Hershman gave Mansfield that 21-7 lead at the half.

After Wisnieski and Hershman hooked up for that 23-yard touchdown pass, Mansfield closed out the scoring late in the fourth when Buchanan busted 16 yards off right tackle to make it 35-7.

Despite the impressive victory, Redding echoed a note of caution.

“It’s only a beginning,” he said. “Next week we have to go to an Attleboro team that’s probably going to be 3-0. It’s a battle. We’re getting healthier and we’re getting better. But it’s a long road here in the Kelly-Rex.”

MANSFIELD 35, NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH 14
NA (2-1, 0-1) 0-7-0-7 - 14
MAN (3-0, 1-0)

First quarter
M – Miguel Villar-Perez 15 run (Alex Thompson kick)
M – Villar-Perez 2 run (Thompson kick)

Second quarter
N – Mike Lambert 4 pass from James Kummer (Connor Flynn kick)
M – Mike Hershman 28 pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Thompson kick)

Fourth quarter
M – Hershman 23 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
M – Chris Buchanan 16 run (Thompson kick)
N – Lambert 12 pass from Justin Gallagher (Flynn kick)

Recap: No. 4 Mansfield 29, Dunbar (MD) 26

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
12:18
AM ET
BALTIMORE -- The Hornets traveled for an out of state showdown, as No. 4 Mansfield battled 9-time Maryland state champions, Paul Laurence Dunbar school out of Baltimore Friday night and came away victorious, winning 29-26 over the Poets.

With less than two minutes in the fourth quarter, Mansfield (1-0) marched down the field into the Dunbar red zone and Hornets quarterback Kyle Wisnieski found senior wideout Mike Hershman in the end zone to give Mansfield the 27-26 lead. The Hornets would follow with the two-point conversion to go on to seal the win.

Dunbar (0-1) had been down 21-6 early in the third quarter but was able to put together some offense with three scoring drives to get back into the game. Dunbar quarterback William Crest went off, running in a score at the end of the third quarter to make it 21-12, then threw a 62-yard bomb to wideout Dominic Miller to bring the Poets within a point, and finally took the lead when Crest ran into the end zone from five yards out.

“He was unbelievable,” Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said of Crest, a senior West Virginia commit. “He was complete package, tall, big arm, athletic.”

Though the Hornets never gave up and stuck with the game plan, which was play solid defense and get the football back into Wisnieski’s hands.

Extra Points not Dunbar’s ally: Dunbar was only able to convert an extra point once, which put the Poets behind the majority of the game. Mansfield drew first blood in the second quarter when Wisnieski ran in a quarterback sneak. Then Dunbar responded with a score but missed the extra point on a field goal try putting the Poets behind by one. Dunbar was 1-for-3 on point-after tries.

Brendan Hill is hard to miss: The Mansfield junior tight end is 6-foot-5 and blocks out the sun when on the football field. Hill has tremendous athleticism and has great hands. Wisnieski was able to find Hill easily all alone in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass to give the Hornets a 14-6 lead, heading into halftime.

Making a statement: Aside from showing the nation what Massachusetts football is all about, Mansfield proved something to themselves without playing a down.

“We really just had a great trip,” Redding said. “We spent two days in Washington, D.C., and that alone made it a great trip. But for us, to come out like this, this is really a great memory. This was an opportunity to find out about ourselves.”

Of course, the Hornets did much more than that, starting their season with what already might be the biggest statement win by any team in the Commonwealth this year.

“I'm not shocked,” Redding told EPSN Boston, “but I'm surprised. We didn't really scrimmage that well."

Raucous environment: The stands were nearly full by the time the Hornets took the field for pregame warmups around 6 p.m. The concrete bleachers were filled with about 4,000 fans – by Redding’s estimation – including the 100 or so family and friends who made the trek down to the Charm City.

“It was unbelievable,” Redding said of the scene. “Even around the perimeter of the stadium, people who couldn’t get in were watching through the fence. It was opening night for them, too, so it was a big deal.

“For a Week 1 game though, it felt like a playoff atmosphere."

This ain't your dad's No. 4 Mansfield

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
2:31
AM ET
For Mansfield football head coach Mike Redding, it was as though the lights went out.

The Hornets had rolled to Super Bowl titles behind tall-timbered linemen and their power-running scheme. And then, something strange happened.

“It’s funny because it seems like the last three, four years, we haven’t been getting more big linemen,” said Redding, who enters his 25th year at the helm this year. “But what we are getting is a lot of speed and skill.”

So, in recent years, Redding has done what any good coach does, playing to his team’s strength. He adapted with the pace of change and brought the Hornets into the age of the spread offense.

The decision was a matter of mere necessity.

“We don’t have the teams that we used to have, lining up in the ‘I’ and the Wing-T to run powers and isos,” Redding added. “We don’t have that kind of team anymore.”

While the packaging is different, the results have remained largely the same, as Mansfield has won three straight Hockomock (Kelley-Rex) titles from 2010-12, including another trip to the Eastern Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl last season. Quarterbacked by then-junior Kyle Wisnieski, the Hornets utilized their skill on the perimeter, led by the shifty Mike Hershman and a rangy tight end/wide receiver hybrid in Brendan Hill.

They fit the mold of the modern-build Hornet.

“The thing is that we have a lot of athletes who play lacrosse, or play basketball, in other seasons,” Redding said. “I think those kids are attracted to the offense.

“Now, we’re putting four, five guys out in a formation on offense, whereas before we were lining up with one split end and a couple of wing backs. Now, we have all these athletes on the field who can run, catch the ball and make plays.”

Mansfield’s stylized offense has come with other added wrinkles and benefits. Redding sees the Hornets pushing the pace on offense this year, again playing to strengths of team speed and conditioning.

Also, with Wisnieski’s maturity under center, Mansfield increasingly has built checks into the play-calling, meaning just about every signal from sidelines comes with two possible play options. It’s then the job of the quarterback to pick which of the two calls is most appropriate against the shown defense.

“It keeps us from guessing in the huddle, which is what we used to do,” Redding said.

Meaning that the lights won’t go out again.

MANSFIELD AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mike Redding (25th season, 204-66-4)
2012: 8-5, lost in Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl.
Players to watch: Brendan Hill, Jr. TE/DE, 6-5, 205 lbs.; Mike Hershman, Sr. WR/DB, 6-2, 175 lbs.; Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, 6-0, 165 lbs.; Alex Ruddy, Sr. FB/LB, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Kyle Hurley, Sr. RB/DB, 5-10, 160 lbs.; Steve Zielselman, Sr. OL/DL, 6-2, 220 lbs.; Max Trowbridge, Sr. OL/DE, 6-0, 185 lbs.
Strengths: Passing game.
Weakness: Lack of game experience at running back.

Outlook: Talk about starting the season with a bang. Mansfield kicks off Friday with a visit to Baltimore and Maryland powerhouse Dunbar. The Hornets have made it a habit of taking on premiere out-of-state games early in the season, having most recently played Christian Brothers (N.Y.) in Syracuse. “The best thing is the team bonding experience,” Redding said. “The kids get on a bus on Wednesday and they’ll be together twenty-four-seven until Saturday night. I think that builds a unity for the full length of the season.”

Roundtable: Best players, breakout stars, sleepers

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:03
PM ET
Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Best QB: Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Best RB: Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE: Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best LB: C.J. Parvelus, Everett
Best DB: Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense: Natick
Best rushing offense: St. John's Prep
Best offensive line: St. John's Prep
Best defensive line: Reading
Best linebackers: Reading
Best secondary: Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Medway
Coach Dave McSweeney's affinity for power football isn't a secret, and this season he'll have two road-graders to run behind in Kevin Sheehan (6-4, 285) and Cam Smith (6-5, 290, Lafayette commit). If there's any exhibit for why we needed to change the postseason format, the most glaring sample might be the Mustangs, who went 19-3 from 2009-10 with no playoff berth. In this new playoff system, a gameplan like the Mustangs' is built for the long haul.

Lynn English
Perhaps this isn't a surprise pick so much as an affirmation. In a Division 2 North that is perceived to be wide open after heavy favorite Reading, the Bulldogs have enough talent to make a deep run. There has always been elite talent at the skill positions, but Preseason All-State selection Chris Tinkham gives them a presence in the trenches they've lacked the last few years, a rare "war daddy" type who overpowers the interior gaps. The biggest question will be where the Bulldogs put junior Jordan Javier, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Haverhill who is a matchup problem at his natural split end position but also throws one of the prettiest balls you'll see on the North Shore.

Quabbin
The Panthers struggled to a 4-7 tune last season in a weak league, but there is some promise. Quarterback Dylan Kierman is an underappreciated talent, who should get a boost from the return of slippery receiver Nick Thyden. The Panthers run a unique "Air Raid" scheme, and another year of experience with it could surprised teams in Division 4 Central.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Lukas Denis, Jr. ATH, Everett
After an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was the assumed successor to record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, but barely saw the field, Denis is moving to the perimeter, where he will take a role similar to the hybrid slot-back role that Manny Asprilla made legendary in 2010. Defensively, he should serve as a terrific compliment in the secondary to highly-touted safety/cornerback Lubern Figaro, and has already begun to pick up some Division 1 FBS interest.

Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. WR, Doherty
Standing a long 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Adarkwah has an unusually large catching radius for a high school receiver. This summer in passing leagues, the Highlanders toyed with Adarkwah and Boston College-bound receiver Isaac Yiadom on the same side of 2x2 formations. Head coach Sean Mulcahy has to be excited with the possibilities that opens up -- just imagine sending those two on a post-wheel combo route. Or better yet, imagine running them on a bubble screen, taking advantage of both Yiadom's elite speed and Adarkwah's great downfield blocking skills.

Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. ATH, Amherst
Already a household name in track and field, where he was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last spring as a sophomore after winning New Englands in the 100-meter dash, he's about to get a whole lot more attention. Boston College, UConn and UMass have already offered Torres, who made just 24 catches last season but made some incredible feats of athleticism. Hurricanes head coach David Thompson told us earlier this month "[We're] trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get", so expect bigger numbers in 2013.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Springfield Central
Div. 3 - Walpole
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

Best QB - Drew Belcher - Sr. Reading
Best RB - Johnny Thomas - Sr. St. John’s Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap - Jr. Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan - Sr. Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker – Sr., Millis/Hopedale
Best DL – Joe Gaziano – Jr., Xaverian
Best LB – Eddie Motavu – Sr., Tewksbury
Best DB - Lubern Figaro - Sr. Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line – Bridgewater-Raynham
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Leominster
Best secondary - Everett

THREE SURPRISE TEAMS

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
OK, so a team coming off an 11-2 season and a Super Bowl appearance might not exactly be a surprise, but with a couple of other Catholic Central teams garnering the buzz in the preseason, let's not forget the Spartans have another season with Jordan Collier (1,495 yards, 18 TD).

Hingham

We've heard them knocking, but can they come in? The Harbormen have whittled the gap in recent years, particularly against Patriot League nemesis Duxbury, but they're still waiting to break through. They could have an in-road in Division 3 Southwest. An early non-leaguer against Oliver Ames should be a bellweather for things to come, but the real proof will come Oct. 5, against those aforementioned Dragons.

Wakefield
The Warriors fell short of their goal of winning the Middlesex League's Freedom division last year, but should be in the mix in a wide open Division 3 Northwest race. We'll have a better impression after a visit from Lynn English in Week 2.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES

Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/S, King Philip
Anybody who saw Johnston's hard-nosed 157-yard, 2-touchdown performance against North Attleborough last year knows Johnston's style. He's a burden for would-be tacklers inside the box, and once he kicks it outside, he's also very hard to catch.

Grant Kramer, Sr. OT, Duxbury
The younger brother of Boston College tackle Aaron Kramer, Grant is now ready to assume the role as the next great lineman on the Dragons' line (and there have been some very good ones in recent memory). He currently holds offers from Coastal Carolina and Villanova but has also expressed interest in attending West Point.

Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
When Rebels starter Mike Rando went out with an ankle injury near the midway point of the regular season last year, it was Moriarty who carried the load down the stretch. Expect even bigger numbers this year.

WAY TOO EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:

D1 – St. John’s Prep
D2 – Springfield Central
D3 – Walpole
D4 – Doherty
D5 – Auburn
D6 – Millis/Hopedale

***

Josh Perry
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Jonathan Thomas, St. John’s Prep
Best WR – Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE – Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL – Jon Baker, Millis-Hopedale
Best DL – Andrew Bourque, Reading
Best LB – Kevin Bletzer, Catholic Memorial
Best DB – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense – St. John’s Prep
Best offensive line – St. John’s Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers – Catholic Memorial
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE:

Attleboro
A new coaching staff, the energy of a new field complex, and a strong crop of returning seniors could make the Bombardiers the surprise team of the Hockomock League. Attleboro has always been a sleeping giant and the program continues to find solid athletes, it’s now up to the new staff to build a system that fits the talent on the roster. With a couple of league rivals dealing with injuries and suspensions, Attleboro could sneak up on people.

Barnstable
Everyone assumes that there will be a significant drop off for the Red Raiders due to a big graduating class, but there is still potential to be a solid team in D2 and in the OCL. This may not be a another season with Barnstable holding the top spot in the poll, but it shouldn’t be written off either.

Stoughton
The Knights are expected to finish behind Oliver Ames in the Davenport, but don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two and give the Tigers a run at the title. Watch out for running back Malachi Baugh, who will be getting the majority of the carries this season and is a beast to try and bring down.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Attleboro’s giant tight end/defensive end is a monster match-up on both sides of the ball and could be a real threat as Tim Walsh’s favorite target in the Bombardiers passing attack.

Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Mike Panepinto has deservedly drawn praise as the star man on the Needham offense, but the senior quarterback, who has been under center for 1-1/2 seasons already, will have high expectations as the Rockets try to get back on top in the Bay State.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
With the graduation of running backs Robbie Rapoza and Kevin Makie and the continued injury problems for wide receiver Michael Hershman the key cog for the Hornets offense will be its senior quarterback. Wisnieski’s ability to spread the ball around and pick the right options out of a still talented receiving corps that includes Brendan Hill is going to be the key for Mansfield’s run at a Hockomock title.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS:

Div. 1 – St. John’s Prep
Div. 2 - Nashoba
Div. 3 – Bishop Feehan
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 – Millis-Hopedale

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Prep Stars


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Alex Quintero, Lowell
Best LB - C.J. Parvelus, Defense
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Duxbury
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Bedford
While Wayland and Concord-Casrlisle have earned the DCL Small Championship the past few years do not sleep on Bedford in 2013. The Bucs play one of the toughest schedules in Division 4 and the return All-DCL running back Olan Abner.

Chelmsford
While Lowell, Central and Andover are getting most of the early press in the MVC Large, the Chelmsford Lions return one of the State's top running backs in Jeff D'Auria, a seasoned young quarterback in Jack Campsmith and a nice nucleus of tough experienced defenders.

Archbishop Williams
If Archies can find early offensive balance to take some of the work load off the shoulders of star senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson, they could make some noise in the D5 playoff hunt.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
The St. John's Prep transfer saw late game carries last season as a freshman for Prep's Super Bowl Champion squad. The speedy halfback is now back home in the MVC Small, and with the graduation of work horse, All-State RB Chance Brady (Tufts), there should be plenty carries to go around.

Devin Lekan, Sr. DE/TE, Chelmsford
D'Auria and Campsmith return to lead the offense for Chelmsford's but it is the Lion defense could be the story if they stay healthy. The Lions feature the 2nd team all-MVC performer was the most impressive player in the games I saw last season.

Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB/RB Billerica
Orekoya saw a lot of playing time as a two-way starter for Billerica last season. With another year under his belt Orekoya should thrive in coach Rich McKenna's high octane offense.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Reading
Div. 3 - Tewksbury
Div. 4 - Dennis-Yarmouth
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Boston Cathedral

***

John Botelho
Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal


Best QB - Troy Flutie, Natick
Best RB - Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Steve Manning, Abington
Best LB - Kervin Jean-Claude, Brockton
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Auburn
Best linebackers - Brockton
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton
They're ranked pretty high in any poll you look at because people have just come to accept the fact that Brockton generally reloads. They graduated 18 starters from last season's Super Bowl team, including quarterback Austin Roberts, who was one of the best in school history. Roberts, Micah Morel and Joe Previte are all playing ball at prep schools this year, and Anthony Davis has moved on to Div. 1 Central Connecticut. Still, the Boxers will very solid again. They have a number of athletes and playmakers, including returning do-it-all Aaron Leclair. Transfer Jamal Williams is going to compliment him well, and sophomore Kerry Raymond is physically imposing at 6-foot-1 and 205. Aaron Monteiro's 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame gives Brockton an anchor on the offensive line. They have plenty of guys ready to step forward on the other side of the ball as well, led by Kervin Jean-Claude, Justin Ahanon and Leclair.

Abington
The Green Wave went unbeaten in their march toward a Super Bowl crown last year, but saw a slew of stars graduate. QB Brandon Cawley, TE/DE Pat Dwyer, FB Jack Malafronte, RB Babila Fonkem, DB Mike Walsh, OL Tyler Perakslis and OL Matt Diver are just some of the elite players Abington graduated. These guys won't miss a beat though, as they have a ton of talent back. Matt Kilmain broke out for more than 400 yards on 27 carries in two postseason wins last year, and he might not even be the best player back this season. Abington returns its top three tacklers from a year ago and has most of their front seven back on defense. Jim Kelliher has one of the best coaching staffs going at this point, and these guys look like they're headed back to the playoffs. (For bold prediction purposes, I'm also going to go ahead and say I think they beat Duxbury on opening night, because that's how good I think this team can be).

Stoughton
The Black Knights missed the playoffs last year because of the wrong day for a let down game, taking a tough defeat to eventual Super Bowl champ Sharon. The Knights lost some very good players, but leading running back Malachi Baugh is back in the fold and they return four starting offensive lineman, so there's no reason to think the offense won't be up to par again. The Hockomock League has proven in recent years to be one of the toughest to win, but a second guaranteed playoff berth can only help a team like Stoughton.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Aaron Monteiro, Jr. OL, Brockton
Monteiro has something that can't be learned, or even worked toward. His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame is one that will draw the interest of coaches at the next level. Coach Peter Colombo is very excited about plugging the junior into his offensive line, and it's not just because of the size. Monteiro worked during the off-season to get himself stronger and is primed to be one of the best lineman in the state. He plays basketball in the winter, something that has helped him develop quick and agile feet for a guy his size.

Sam Malafronte, Jr. LB, Abington
Started at linebacker a year ago as a sophomore for the Div. 4 Super Bowl champs, and finished second on the team in tackles. A very good athlete who is a work-out warrior, Malafronte will team with Matt Whelan to lead a solid corps in the middle of the field for the Green Wave.

James Shea, Sr. WR, East Bridgewater
The Vikings have benefited from having tremendous athletes in the backfield the last few years (think Casey DeAndrade, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson and Kevin Lynch), but in 2013 their most dangerous player will be splitting out wide. Shea can run with just about anyone -- he finished sixth in the 100-meter dash in the South Shore League last spring -- and is going to wreak havoc pulling in passes all year.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Natick
Div. 3 - Plymouth South
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Abington
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

Northeast 7v7: St. Paul (Conn.) takes South title

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
12:20
AM ET
EASTON, Mass. -- It's been an eventful offseason in the recruiting department for St. Paul Catholic (Conn.) quarterback Logan Marchi, who saw his childhood dream come true late last month with a verbal commitment to UConn.

Winning? Not so much. Since appearing the CIAC Class MM playoffs in 2009, the Falcons have won just six games in three years. If they're to get back to their winning ways, they're going to need another big season out of Marchi, a 6-foot-1 gunslinger with plenty of zip out of his unorthodox three-quarter arm slot.

Could today's events at Oliver Ames High, site of the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 South Regional Tournament, be the start? Marchi led the Falcons through a forest of quality competition, knocking off Massachusetts heavyweight Mansfield in the finals, 35-29, to become the first team from Connecticut to capture a regional title in tournament history.

St. Paul and Mansfield qualified for July 30's New England Championship, at Bishop Fenwick High in Peabody.

"It feels good," said Marchi, a Winsted, Conn., resident, who also played safety today on defense. "The past three seasons have been losing for us. We've been young, we've had freshmen starting on the varsity. Coming out here, seeing smiles on faces, seeing everybody happy winning is good. It's a fun experience."

After going unbeaten through a pool of Framingham, Braintree, Whitman-Hanson and Middleborough, the Falcons took out Dighton-Rehoboth and East Bridgewater to advance to the Final Four. There, St. Paul matched up with Cardinal Spellman, led by one of the Bay State's top targets in 6-foot-6 tight end Rory Donovan, before advancing to the final against Mansfield.

"For his height he runs good routes," Marchi said of Donovan, who currently holds offers from UMass and UNH. "He's fast, he's quick, he's got good feet -- I like that. I tried playing some press man on him, but he blew right by me. He's got good hands, he's a good kid. I like him."

Marchi did a good job most of the afternoon spreading the ball around to his targets -- junior Eli Parks, junior Brendan Carroll, senior Reid Morin and his brother, sophomore Austin -- and in the finals against the Hornets, Marchi impressed the crowd on hand with his throws both short and long.

Utilizing crossing patterns over the middle, Marchi threaded some lasers through the middle for quick first downs. Their most successful maneuver involved switching vertical routes deep down the right sideline; with the Mansfield safety often locked along the hash marks, that left inside slot receiver Austin Morin open for several terrific over-the-shoulder grabs at the pylons.

Marchi, pleased with the results, is optimistic about the potential momentum today's action carrying into the season.

"We're excited, we're ready to compete," he said. "We're ready to show our offense to people, we're ready to show we have a better defense, and we want to win some games."

Flair for the Dramatic: Mansfield, Sunday's runner-up, advanced to the final with a little bit of karma on its side perhaps.

The Hornets were spurred on the road to the championship game by a couple of last-ditch passing attempts. After winning an early-round game on a Hail Mary, Mansfield won its semi-final matchup with Catholic Memorial via a full-field heave from quarterback Kyle Wisnieski to Kyle Hurley with no time remaining. Hurley, who was all over the field for the Hornets, working a complement of short and intermediate routes, grabbed a hold of the tipped ball in the end zone to earn the come-from-behind victory over CM.

For Mansfield, a Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl participant in 2012, it's about carrying last season's momentum into a new campaign.

"We have a lot of juniors from last year returning this year, so it's a pretty tight family," Hurley said. "We just came in here trying to compete. We knew there were a lot of good teams coming in. We thought we could hold our own, obviously making it to the championship game and played a great team."

Sunday was a fine showcase for Mansfield's aerial attack, which figures to feature more spread looks in the upcoming season to maximize the strengths of its personnel. And, although the Hornets were without two of their top targets -- Brendan Hill (AAU basketball Nationals) and Mike Hershman (rehabbing injury) -- they still showed plenty of sting behind Brendan Keady and Hurley.

"We're able to make some connections with Kyle [Wisnieski] throwing to a couple different receivers," Hurley said. "I feel like there are things we can get out of it, we can communicate and try to make improvements -- it's July, it's early obviously. It's just great to get out here and compete."

Donovan gets his share: One of the most-anticipated individual matchups of the day went down early in the afternoon in Pool G, where Springfield Central's Ju'uan Williams manned up the 6-foot-6 Donovan in a battle between two players who could potentially see themselves on ESPN Boston's Preseason All-State Team next month.

The 5-foot-8 Williams, who currently holds an offer from Division 2 American International College, gave up 10 inches and nearly 25 pounds to Donovan. He mostly played eight to 10 yards off the line of scrimmage against Donovan, but he showed off his athleticism early, crashing to the pylon on a fade and out-leaping Donovan to break up a would-be touchdown. On plays that Williams marked Donovan, the tight end was targeted three times, with two catches and a score.

"He's a good player and he's really aggressive. He's physical," Donovan said of Williams. "He's fast, he's quick, he knows what he's doing ou there, absolutely. He's not a scrub."

In addition to UMass and UNH offers, Donovan has also heard from Temple, James Madison, Towson, UConn and Maryland.

Albany offers Cody Williams: Central's biggest star, quarterback Cody Williams, was not available for today's tournament. He was on a visit to the University of Albany, where he received his third scholarship offer from the Division 1 FCS ranks to go along with Monmouth (N.J.) and Central Connecticut State.

With Cody out, two of his cousins -- sophomore Aaron, and the aforementioned Ju'uan -- saw time under center. Ju'uan filled in for Cody in two games last season, and was quite impressive, most significantly throwing for two touchdowns and running in the game-winning score in a highly-anticipated October showdown with rival Longmeadow. Today Ju'uan aired it out, with two deep completions down the right sideline to senior Malik Johnson.

Blitz for Bletzer: One of the most intriguing commitments of Steve Addazio's historic first recruiting class at Boston College is Catholic Memorial athlete Kevin Bletzer, who saw time at nearly every position in the back seven last year as one of the team's leading tacklers. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, the Medfield resident will likely fit at outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Don Brown's scheme, which prioritizes speed and versatility. Bletzer also captains the Knights' hockey and lacrosse teams, which are traditionally among the state's best.

And in turn, it's likely that Bletzer will stay closer to the line of scrimmage on defense this year for the Knights.

"I've kinda always loved to play linebacker," Bletzer said. "They had me at safety the last three years, but they put me up in the box, so I've had a little taste for linebacker in my past years. The only difference is, I'm going to be stuck there [now], and have to deal with a lot more lineman. But I look forward to it."

Ball Hawks: Remember earlier this month, when we mused that suggestions of Barnstable's demise, after graduating one of its best senior classes in school history, may have been exaggerated?

Look, there's a reason the Red Raiders dropped futile Durfee from their schedule and added Catholic Conference juggernauts BC High and Xaverian, one year after spending seven weeks as the state's No. 1 team and taking Everett to the brink in the Division 1A Super Bowl. Under head coach Chris Whidden, Barnstable has been among the state's best in pass coverage -- and we saw that again today.

The Raiders didn't survive pool play, going 2-2 in a pool that included Nauset and BB&N, but suffice to say their safety play was among the day's most impressive performances. In the final two games, senior Derek Estes came up with seven interceptions, including four against Silver Lake. In the Silver Lake battle, senior Micah Gregory made one of the day's most impressive athletic plays, breaking on a ball at the opposite sideline from the far hash marks and making a one-handed snatch of a would-be first down.

Walloping Whalers: Nantucket might have been the only team in the country last season with bookend tackles tipping the scales at 180 pounds, but a Division 1-bound tight end measuring 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds (ESPN Boston All-Stater Terrel Correia). But it looks like the Whalers will have some more meat in the trenches this fall.

Juniors Mykal Ludford (6-4, 305) and Matt Correia (6-3, 250, younger brother of Terrel) were out running routes today with the Whalers' skill, and a third lineman Taylor Gulley (6-3, 275) should give them further bulk. That should help out senior linebacker Jon Holdgate, who is expected to shoulder a big load.

Recap: Mansfield 23, Duxbury 19

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
3:59
AM ET
Mansfield & DuxburyJim Tarbox for ESPNBoston.comMansfield ended Duxbury's state-best 37-game winning streak with a 23-19 win over the Dragons in Tuesday night's Division 2 Eastern Mass. semifinal played at Bridgewater-Raynham.


BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- In the ramp up to Tuesday night’s Division 2 semifinal against Duxbury, Mansfield head coach Mike Redding devised the blueprint for a Hornets’ victory. Playing a foe such as the Dragons, who had been perfect for nearly three seasons, the Hornets’ veteran coach knew his time would need to be nearly flawless itself.

Mansfield delivered exactly that game in a 23-19 win over Duxbury. With the victory, the Hornets advance to play Reading in a rematch of their classic Gillette Stadium Super Bowl battle from 2010, but they also put an end to the Dragons’ state-best 37-game winning streak.

“We had to do everything right to barely get out of here with a win,” Redding said. “We got turnovers, we got a couple of three-and-outs, and some good ball control drives to kill the clock. Everything we needed to do, we had to, and we did all of it.”

The ball control element for the Hornets (8-4) came in the form of Kevin Makie (123 rushing yards, TD) and Robbie Rapoza (67 yards, TD). The solid backfield did as it has done all season, churning out tough yards in key situations, particularly at the end of drives.

On defense, Mansfield was opportunistic, forcing three turnovers. Michael Barresi showed a nose for the ball with a fumble recovery and an interception on consecutive drives bridging the first and second quarters.

The Hornets’ defensive success synergized with the offense, as Mansfield scored points following each of its three takeaways; the finest example of which was the second quarter when Duxbury (11-1) ran only three plays from scrimmage.

“We came into the game and we knew that if we played our hardest, got a couple of turnovers, didn’t make any mistakes on offense, we’d have the game,” Makie said. “The offense fought hard, the defense fought hard and created a lot of turnovers to help us out.”

WHAT A DRAG?
The Dragons stayed in the hunt throughout, thanks in no small part to another spirited effort by senior running back Jon Hurvitz. The June bug-like back skittered past the Mansfield defense for 155 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

However, Mansfield dealt the knockout blow in the fourth quarter on Kyle Wisnieski’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Hill.

“We stuck him at the backside tight end and we’ve been running that drag route all season long,” Redding said. “People have been overplaying it, so we sold the drag and ran the flag inside. Their linebacker No. 55 [Marcus Urann] got a good hit in on Kyle [Wisnieski].”

While Hill was asked to stay around the line of scrimmage more in Tuesday’s game in a blocking capacity, his rangy 6-foot-5 frame was able to slip away from the Duxbury secondary, rumbling down the left sideline to pay dirt.

Postgame, his teammates ragged on Hill for nearly getting caught from behind at one instant during his sideline scamper, but the basketball standout’s athleticism also created separation on the play.

Plus, he’s got a sense of humor to take it all in stride.

“I’m fast when it counts,” Hill quipped.

And also appreciative of his quarterback: “[Wisnieski] makes it easy every time, he puts the ball right on my hands. It was a great call, the line stepped up big and gave him plenty of time to throw.”

SNOW FALLING ON EMBERS
At the end of the evening, Wisnieski’s bleach white jersey was as pristine at the clumpy flakes of snow falling across Southern New England.

Pass protection was point of emphasis at Mansfield practice this week, as the Hornets hoped to slow down a big and athletic Dragons defensive front seven.

As a result, the Hornets mixed up their passing schemes.

“We kept an extra guy in protection just to give us time and try to get three guys out [on the pattern] instead of four,” Redding said. “That seemed to help a little bit.”

From there, Wisnieski was able to cherry-pick the defense.

“They were bringing the heat all night,” the junior signal-caller said. “They’re big up front and our guys stepped up big. They stoned them at the line and gave me time to throw and make reads. It was great.”

Duxbury – 6 0 7 6 -- 19
Mansfield -- 3 13 0 7 -- 23

First quarter
M - Mike Hershman 25-yard field goal
D - Jon Hurvitz 69-yard run (kick failed)

Second quarter
M - Kevin Makie 1-yard run (Hershman kick)
M - Robbie Rapoza 2-yard run (kick blocked)

Third quarter
D - Jon Hurvitz 15-yard run (Tucker Hannon kick)

Fourth quarter
M - Brendan Hill 74-yard pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Hershman kick)
D - Hurvitz 15-yard run (kick failed)

Five things to watch in Tuesday's football playoffs

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
3:08
AM ET
We're hours away from kickoff to Tuesday's MIAA football semi-final playoff games across the state, so we're previewing the action with five things to keep an eye on during tonight's action.

High Schools editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall break it down here:

BRENDAN HALL:

THE HEAT IS ON
The race is on Tuesday night for the state’s lead in rushing touchdowns. Currently, Holy Name’s Quron Wright trails Plymouth South’s Dylan Oxsen, 34-33, though Wright has more overall touchdowns than the breakout junior tailback. Barring something crazy, nobody figures to catch Wright for the state’s lead in rushing yardage – he’s over 2,000 headed into the Naps’ Division 2 Central playoff game with Nashoba.

Watching the two, it’s a bit of a contrast in styles, and not just because of the offenses they run (Holy Name with the vaunted double-wing; South with a modified pistol). The generously-listed 5-foot-7 Wright is as Lilliputian as they come, but he accelerates into his cuts, builds up to top speed quickly, and evades direct hits with his low center of gravity (watch highlights HERE). Oxsen isn’t as fleet-footed as Wright, but his combination of above-average leg strength and low pad level – coupled with a very downhill-oriented running scheme – make him a bowling ball (watch highlights HERE).

Both teams figure to be underdogs in their matchups. Nashoba rolled to an easy victory over the Naps in their late-September meeting, while South’s EMass Div. 2A opponent, Natick, averages over 420 yards of offense and features one of the state’s most dynamic passing attacks.

AIR RAID
All season long, we’ve jokingly called the Merrimack Valley Conference “Death by 1,000 Shallow Crosses”. Based on some of the scores the league produced this year, we think it’s somewhat justified.

Looking at MVC Large champ Andover, you probably figure these guys could run underneath routes in their sleep. But that is to take away from the deceivingly-quality arm strength of quarterback C.J. Scarpa (watch highlights HERE). Seemingly everybody’s favorite sub-6-foot gunslinger at 5-foot-8, he has a quick release and can gun it downfield with the best of them.

As much attention as Andover’s receivers draw in the short passing game – particularly, speedy waterbug Cam Farnham – the Golden Warriors are known to ably execute “pick plays” aimed at releasing Will Heikkinen or Andrew Deloury into open space, or simply take the top off of the defense.

But that is all to say, the Warriors haven’t seen a defense quite like the one they’re facing Tuesday night in Catholic Conference champion St. John’s Prep. The Eagles have playmakers all over the field, and feature one of the state’s best back sevens in linebacker Sean Smerczysnki, cornerback Gerald Kahari, rover Lucas Bavaro and safety Alex Moore.

On the other side of the ball, Moore and junior Jonathan Thomas make up one of the state’s most feared backfield, if not the best. Last week, both Moore and Thomas were named two of the five finalists for our Mr. Football Award.

The Warriors are in for their biggest prize fight of the season here against a Prep defense. We’re all interested to see how this passing attack fares against a ball-hawking defense with a plus-10 turnover differential.

THROWING DARTS
No Division has been quite as unpredictable as Central Mass. Division 1. Shrewsbury upended cross-town rival St. John’s 51-46, then a month later delivered a last-second 33-32 upset of Leominster, en route to finishing 9-2 and with the top overall seed in the power rankings.

Wachusett, meanwhile, took a 46-14 beating in Week 4 at the hands of St. John’s, only to upset Leominster and Shrewsbury in the following weeks. On Oct. 26, however, they took a surprise 21-20 loss to a Westborough squad that finished 1-10.

We know St. John’s can score points with anyone – Andrew Smiley’s record-setting campaign in his first year starting at quarterback is testament. But how do you explain surrendering 51 points to Shrewsbury, 40 to Holy Name and 39 to Milford?

Leominster appears to be just as enigmatic. This is a team that gave Everett and Brockton everything they could handle, and delivered a thrilling last-second victory over St. John’s. But this is also a team that needed a second-half rally to overcome 2-9 Algonquin, and seemingly let many underdog teams hang around.

Quite frankly, I won’t be surprised by anything that transpires in this division.

* * * * *

SCOTT BARBOZA:

MANIFEST DESTINY?
The are a couple of interesting storylines to watch in the Division 1A semifinals where Everett meets Masconomet and Barnstable tries to pay back Lincoln-Sudbury.

First, while the Crimson Tide will be heavily favored over the Chieftains, one element worth watching will be Everett’s start. The Crimson Tide will be well-rested after not playing a Thanksgiving Day game this year. While the time off certainly will help heal injuries, Everett now hasn’t seen live action in more than two weeks. And, after closing out their regular season schedule with three straight Greater Boston League games, you can argue the Crimson Tide haven’t played a full game since their Oct. 20 win at BC High.

Of course, if the Crimson Tide advance, they could face the lone team to hand them a loss in more than two years – Barnstable. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders will be looking to exorcise a demon of their own in Lincoln-Sudbury, who dealt Barnstable a 14-13 upset loss in last year’s semifinal.

While you would expect neither the Crimson Tide nor Red Raiders to come out flat on Tuesday, but if either is eying a potential rematch on Saturday, the game we’ve been dying to see might not happen at all.

DUXBURY PUTS IT ON THE LINE AGAIN
After Mt. Greylock lost a few weeks back, Duxbury has laid claim to the longest active winning streak in MIAA football. They’ll put a 37-game unbeaten streak on the line when they face Hockomock League Kelley-Rex winner Mansfield at Bridgewater-Raynham. The Dragons would have a 39-game streak and a string of three-straight Super Bowl championships if they complete this year’s run. But while we’re exploring what could be, let’s go back to what almost was.

In last year’s Division 2 semifinal against King Philip, the Dragons potent spread attack was ground to a halt by the Warriors’ swarming defense. Duxbury escaped with a 7-0 win over KP in their run to a second-straight Super Bowl, but in the days following their win over the Warriors, Duxbury head coach Dave Maimaron remarked that it had been the toughest battle his teams had faced during the entirety of the streak.

While Mansfield might not have the pedigree of last year’s KP group the Hornets present their own problems – primarily on offense. The Dragons will not have seen a playmaking duo quite like Mansfield wide outs Brendan Hill and Mike Hershman, and running back Robbie Rapoza is hard to tackle when breaking into the second tier of the defense. The Hornets will certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to upset the Dragons’ third straight Super Bowl bid, but it’s not impossible.


NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – Bewitched, bemused, bewildered, be- anything about the way the season’s gone so far in the Hockomock League. Trying to predict which teams will claim the respective division titles this year is a bit like tossing pebbles into the Manchester Pond Resevoir.

And so Friday night’s battle between No. 19 Mansfield and North Attleborough did not disappoint, with the Red Rocketeers separating themselves in the fourth quarter in a 36-21 win. It only further obfuscated the playoff picture in the Kelley-Rex division, paired with a Franklin loss to Taunton.

“Welcome to the Hockomock League,” North head coach Don Johnson quipped postgame.

The Red Rocketeers (5-3, 2-1 Kelley-Rex) have endured a seemingly never-ending tide of injuries throughout the season, but saw multi-threat running back and defensive back Alex Jette return for their showdown with the Hornets (5-3, 2-1).

North’s early offensive play calls massaged Jette into the flow, running him across the field on passing plays as a decoy in the backfield, faking toss sweeps. They also put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Ryan Perron (7 of 14, 162 yards, 2 TDs) who effectively piloted the Red Rocketeers’ passing attack with a steady stream of screens and intermediate routes in three- and four-receiver sets.

Lately, Perron’s also shown off a big-play capacity, however, and it showed Friday night with two touchdown passes. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Perron hit Jake Dellaire on a seam route for a 62-yard touchdown and an instant 7-0 lead. Just before the half, Perron connected with Jette on a shallow fade for a 40-yard touchdown pass which provided North with a 20-7 halftime lead.

“That was probably the biggest difference tonight, he made good decisions,” Johnson said of his quarterback. “He was just playing with so much confidence tonight, running and throwing the ball.”

Mansfield worked its way back in the second half behind a thumping run game. The Hornets bruised their way downfield on a 9-play, 64-yard drive to open the third, capped by Kevin Makie’s 6-yard touchdown run to make it a one-score game.

The Hornets claimed their first and last lead of the game on the final play of the third quarter as quarterback Kyle Wisnieski hit Mike Hershman for a 35-yard touchdown. With a successful point-after try, Mansfield took a 21-20 lead.

On the ensuing drive, Perron again piloted the Red Rocketeers’ offense, embarking a four-plus minute, 67-yard drive. Perron called his own number for his second rushing touchdown of the game, breaking a tackle in the open field to run 10 yards for a score. He then hit a wide-open Mike Lambert (INT, 2 PD) on a two-point conversion for a 28-21 lead with 6:32 to play.

Looking to even the score, Mansfield was hampered by a couple key penalty calls on its ensuing drive. The Hornets were stung by an illegal forward pass call on what would have been a huge third-down conversion pass to Brendan Hill on third and 14. The call resulted in a loss of downs and forced a Mansfield punt.

With the ball back in their hands and looking to soak the clock, North running back Dwayne Hunter broke the game open two plays later with a 75-yard touchdown run to ice it.

BIG IN STATURE
Listed at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, Hunter makes up in punch for what he lacks in stature. His running style belies his stature. He’s willing to initiate contact, but also hard to bring down with his low center of gravity.

Hunter (8 carries, 127 yards, TD) came up huge for the Red Racketeers however in the fourth quarter. His 25-yard gain on an outside pitch to the left side on fourth and 2 set up North first and goal from the 10-yard line with under seven minutes to play in the fourth. The next play saw Perron run for the game-winning touchdown. The senior running back then placed an exclamation point on the evening with his 75-yard touchdown, made on his adept cutback across the teeth of a Mansfield all-out blitz.

“The linebackers were blitzing, so I had to cut it up quick,” Hunter said of his run. They were overloading on one side, so I had to make a quick decision.”

Johnson heaped praise on his back, calling Hunter a “tough nut.”

Like the rest of this Red Rocketeers team, he just doesn’t crack.

… BUT THEY BEND
North’s defensive front seven looked strong throughout, but saw Robbie Rapoza (14 carries, 135 yards, TD) and Co. find success against them in the second half. Yet, the Red Rocketeers turned Mansfield’s high-flying aerial attack, which scorched a good King Philip unit a week ago, into a relative non-factor.

Wisnieski was dealt with a steady stream of pressure, applied by rangy defensive end Tadkudzwa Chikomba (3 QB pressures) and linebacker Ben Jette.

Ben Jette, the fraternal twin of Alex, sealed a strong performance and the win for North with a strip-sack of Wisnieski on Mansfield’s final offensive drive. Ben Jette finished with three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

“That’s why I’m so proud of these guys because we’ve been going through that now for about six weeks, asking guys to play different positions every week,” Johnson said. “Losing Harry [offensive/defensive lineman Harrison Carmichael] tonight, he’s one of our dominant players on both sides of the ball. We had to use [Sean] Peters at defensive end, he hasn’t gotten many reps out there and he’s banged up with his shoulder. We had to use [Eric] Beckwith as a guard … We’ve asked a lot of players to step up and they’ve done that.”

The pressure applied by the Red Rocketeers up front came in concert with strong efforts from Alex Jette and Jack Blasť at the cornerback positions. Jette tallied three passes defended, two of which came on a promising Mansfield drive late in the second quarter that ended in a turnover on downs and set up Jette’s touchdown reception.

“We didn’t blitz as much as we normally do, we felt that we just couldn’t give up the big play against them, so we played a lot more zone,” Johnson said. “We’d bring one of two guys here and there, but I think we did enough to keep them off-balance.”

ESPN Boston Week 8 football picks

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
1:04
AM ET
NO. 23 CENTRAL CATHOLIC (6-1) AT LOWELL (6-1)
The Skinny: Both teams enter with a 1-0 MVC record, coming off their first league games last week. Lowell rolled over Billerica 56-34 while Central Catholic slipped past Chelmsford 28-21. Cam Latta has picked up where R.J. Noel left off at quarterback this year for Lowell at quarterback, throwing for 12 touchdowns and running for seven more. Central Catholic running back Santino Brancato leads the Raiders with eight touchdowns on the season, none bigger than his final score last week with 41 seconds remaining which was the game-winner over Chelmsford.

Scott Barboza: This will be high-scoring, but relatively tame by MVC standards. Central, 34-28.

Brendan Hall: Because Lowell can score in bunches, and because it's the MVC, take the over. Central Catholic, 38-31.

NO. 13 ANDOVER (7-0) AT CHELMSFORD (4-3)
The Skinny: After a hot start, Chelmsford is trying to snap a three-game losing streak and risk falling behind in the competitive Merrimack Valley Conference's large division. They'll have their hands full against one of the state's most prolific offenses, averaging nearly 400 yards and 39 points per game, between quarterback C.J. Scarpa and receivers Andrew Deloury, Will Heikkinen and Cam Farnham.

Barboza: I think the Lions will try to play ball control for a while, but that can only last so long against the high-octane Andover offense. Andover, 42-31.

Hall: Do you see a recurring theme with our MVC picks? Offense, offense, offense. Andover, 40-35.

LINCOLN-SUDBURY (6-1) AT WESTFORD (6-1)
The Skinny: Like several other key league matchups this weekend, this matchup can potentially put one team in the driver's seat for the Dual County Large title. It's no secret what L-S brings to the table, but workhorse Chris Giorgio is among the league's toughest running backs. Westford counters with jack-of-all-trades athlete Justin Mount, who fills multiple roles on both sides of the ball.

Barboza: Picked the Warriors to win the DCL Large in the preseason and I'm not about to step back now. But the Warriors get it done by a chin. L-S, 14-13.

Hall: Flip a coin in this one. I landed on the Ghosts. Westford, 24-17.

NO. 9 BROCKTON (4-3) AT NO. 14 LEOMINSTER (5-2)
The Skinny: Each of these teams received a boost in different ways last week. The Boxers saw the return of their starting quarterback and emotional leader Auggie Roberts in a drubbing of Big Three rival Durfee. Meanwhile, a Blue Devils offense that has had its troubles in recent weeks, shook off the rust to muster a gut-check, two-minute drive to pull out a last-second victory at Central Mass. rival St. John’s of Shrewsbury, led by quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie. Now, both teams meet in a non-league, late-season measuring stick game to see just how far these offenses have come. Not to mention, both teams can really lay the lumber on defense.

Barboza: Blue Devils ride the wave of momentum. Leominster, 28-20.

Hall: It won't be a shutout, but it won't be as shocking an upset when the Blue Devils take two straight for the first time in...help, anyone? Leominster, 21-14.

HINGHAM (6-1) AT NO. 6 DUXBURY (7-0)
The Skinny: An eagerly awaited battle for the inside edge at the Patriot League Keenan division title, the competition should be as fierce at the tailgate as it will be on the field when the Dragons put their Eastern Mass. best 33-game winning streak on the line. A stout Duxbury defense, led by Mr. Football Award challenger Marshall McCarthy will have its hands full with the Harbormen’s wing-T and backfield led by Ricky Sullivan.

Barboza: The Dragons run their streak to 34 games, but it won’t be without difficulty. Duxbury, 13-7.

Hall: As usual, the Dragons will pull something together in the second half and do just enough to win. Duxbury, 20-17.

NEEDHAM (5-2) AT NO. 10 NATICK (7-0)
The Skinny: After a solid start to the season, Needham is now looking to avoid a two-game losing skid and dropping three of its last five. What better an opponent to try to snap the skid than against one of the state's prolific offenses, led by quarterback Troy Flutie (1,477 passing yards, 19 TD, 4 INT; 555 rushing yards, 7 TD) and receiver Brian Dunlap (41 catches, 784 yards, 11 TD). Needham is also coming off a 31-0 shutout loss to a Walpole squad that was missing its top running back to injury.

Barboza: No chance the Red Hawks aren't undefeated setting up a winner-take-all against Walpole. Can't wait. Natick, 31-17.

Hall: Every time we predict a high-scoring affair involving a Bay State team, it never goes as planned. So I'm going with something fairly pedestrian. Natick, 21-12.

NO. 19 MANSFIELD (5-2) AT NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH (4-3)
The Skinny: The Red Rocketeers will need a win to keep pace with Mansfield (2-0) in the Kelley-Rex division race. The X-factor will be the availability of senior running back and defensive back Alex Jette. While it’s expected Jette will play, the extent to which he’ll be able to contribute is very much up in the air. Still, North is readily able to move the ball on the ground thanks to a physical offensive line anchored by left tackle Eric Beckwith. Mansfield got off to a great start in last week’s blowout of King Philip and the Red Rocketeers’ secondary will have its hands full with playmakers Brendan Hill and Mike Hershman. The Hornets have seen junior linebacker Alexander Ruddy (team-leading 55 tackles, 8 TFL) embrace a larger role this year.

Barboza: In each of the team’s last four meetings, the AWAY team has collected the victory. Not about to buck the recent trend. Mansfield, 26-21.

Hall: Per tradition, the away team wins this one with an epic possession in the final five minutes. Mansfield, 20-13.

NO. 22 KING PHILIP (6-1) AT ATTLEBORO (4-3)
The Skinny: King Philip was soundly delivered a rude awakening a week ago at Mansfield, in a 46-33 loss, and now looks to avoid falling behind in the Hockomock's Kelly-Rex division by extending Attleboro's losing streak. The skid currently stands at three games for the Bombardiers after a 4-0 start, and can't seem to get over the hump -- take, for instance, Malique Clark's nearly 300-yard rushing performance in a 44-41 loss to Franklin last week. An Attleboro win would surely create even more confusion at the top of the division.

Barboza: Warriors defense gets back on track, but it won't be easy against Clark. KP, 21-14.

Hall: I'm all for chaos when it comes to Hockomock bracketology. Get out your TI-83's, folks. Attleboro, 30-20.

WAKEFIELD (6-1) AT STONEHAM (7-0)
The Skinny: It's been a long time since Stoneham has had this good of a start, but the Spartans still face questions about a perceived weak schedule. This is their chance to prove doubters wrong, with defensively-sound Wakefield coming off a 33-0 shutout loss to Burlington.

Barboza: In a word, "SPARRRTAAAHHHHHH!" Stoneham, 20-16.

Hall: Because what the heck, I love rolling the dice, and I want to keep my boss and resident Stoneham-ite Dave Lefort happy. Stoneham, 17-13.

MILTON ACADEMY (3-2) AT BELMONT HILL (3-2)
The Skinny: The Mustangs and Hillies are looking to break free from a logjam of 3-2 teams in the middle of the ISL standings. Milton Academy is led by junior Drew Jacobs, who already has four multi-touchdown games this season. The Mustangs also have one of the biggest offensive weapons in the ISL on the foot of place kicker Justin Yoon.

Barboza: Yoon’s foot provides the difference. Milton Academy, 13-10.

Hall: Let me preface this by saying Justin Yoon can kick for anyone any day of the week. Belmont Hill, 14-10.

ROXBURY LATIN (4-1) AT BB&N (3-2)
The Skinny: Its hopes of an undefeated season no more, Roxbury Latin looks to get back on the saddle and stay in contention for the ISL championship and a NEPSAC Bowl berth. A win here over the Knights, with its solid line and elite target in Wake Forest-bound tight end Brendan O'Neil, would bolster those odds. And the Foxes have the horses to do it, led by Boston College-bound quarterback MacKay Lowrie.

Barboza: Knights can take advantage of the matchup along the line of scrimmage. They'll win the point of attack battle. BB&N, 28-27.

Hall: I'll never count out a John Papas-coached team as long as the guy is in the business, but Latin can win track meets. Roxbury Latin, 35-30.
Mansfield High sophomore Brendan Hill has quickly earned a reputation around the Hockomock League for his exploits on the basketball court. On Saturday, the 6-foot-5 Hill, who's also a standout wide receiver on the Hornets' football team, took the term assist to an entirely different level.

In the first quarter of Mansfield's 46-33 win over King Philip, Hill used his height advantage to tip a pass from quarterback Kyle Wisnieski up and over to fellow receiver Mike Hershman, who took care of the rest, completing a 55-yard touchdown play.

Hornets head coach Mike Redding provided the following video of the play. Hill (No. 19) is lined up toward the near sideline with Hershman (No. 1) in the slot.

Recap: Mansfield 46, No. 11 King Philip 33

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
2:27
AM ET


MANSFIELD, Mass. -- Just when you think you have everything figured out in the Hockomock League, the curveballs start flying.

Mansfield welcomed No. 11 King Philip to Alumni Field on Homecoming armed with the knowledge that the Warriors defense had given up a scant six points per game while building a perfect 6-0 record. Obviously, the Hornets weren't too bothered by that fact, as they proceeded to run wild on their home turf.

Robbie Rapoza led the way with 205 yards and two touchdowns while Kevin Makie added 157 yards and a pair of scores as Mansfield blew past the Warriors, 46-33.

"We ran well and we hit some big plays passing the ball," Mansfield head coach Mike Redding said. "I just thought we were a little bigger up front and we worked hard on picking up blitzes and getting some push. I just thought all night we had a good push on our zone play, our iso play. And we got the ball outside enough to keep them honest."

The two teams traded punts and turnovers before the Hornets (5-2 overall, 2-0 Hockomock Kelley-Rex) started to pick up steam as Rapoza bounced outside and sprinted 80 yards down the left sideline for the game's first touchdown.

Mansfield captain Antonio Medeiros recovered a fumble on King Philip's (6-1, 1-1) ensuing possession and needed just one play to score again. Quarterback Kyle Wisnieski fired a bullet down the left sideline, and sophomore Brendan HJill leapt high into the air and batted the ball toward teammate Mike Hershman, who caught it and raced the rest of the way for a 55-yard score.

"I actually ran the wrong route on that," Hill admitted. "Me and Hersh [Hershman] were both running streaks and when the ball went up it looked like Kyle was actually throwing it out of bounds. I saw Hersh's guy come to me and saw him wide open and I thought, why not hit it to him and he can walk into the end zone."

More big plays were in store in this contest as Rapoza gave the Hornets an 18-0 lead with a 53-yard jaunt straight down the middle of the field.

King Philip returned the favor two possessions later as Fabio Cherant blocked a punt, which led to a one-yard plunge by quarterback John Dillon (276 yards, 4 TD passes).

Mansfield countered as Wisnieski led Hill beautifully down the right sideline for a 69-yard TD pass, the first of three scores in the final three minutes of the half. The Warriors seemed to gain some momentum following a 57-yard march that ended with a 14-yard scoring pass from Dillon to Sam McDonald, but the Hornets rebounded quickly enough as Wisnieski lofted a perfect fade pass to the 6-foot-5 Hill for a 6-yard score and a 32-12 advantage with three seconds left in the half.

Keeping its foot on the gas pedal, Kyle Hurley intercepted Dillon on KP's first drive of the third and four plays later, Makie broke loose for a 39-yard touchdown.

Dillon tacked on two more TD passes to Christian Vellante and McDonald to shave the deficit to 39-26 midway through the fourth, but Makie produced one more big play, going 61-yards to paydirt on the very next play. KP managed one final score as Dillon found Joe Cohrane for his fourth touchdown pass, but the Hornets were able to kill off the remaining time.

"This definitely means a lot and with them being ranked top 10 in the state it proves a lot," Rapoza said. "Everyone kind of doubted us and said we were going to lose this game by a lot but we came out and proved everyone wrong."

Makie added, "Coming into it we just wanted to be able to get yards every play, just move the chains and get first downs but we ended up getting the big plays and that helped us out.

KING PHILIP (6-1) 0 12 7 14 - 33
MANSFIELD (5-2) 12 20 7 7 - 46


M - Robbie Rapoza 80 run (kick blocked)
M - Mike Hershman 55 pass from Kyle Wisnieski (rush failed)
M - Rapoza 53 run (kick failed)
KP - John Dillon 1 run (kick failed)
M - Brendan Hill 69 pass from Wisnieski (Hershman kick)
KP - Sam McDonald 14 pass from Dillon (pass failed)
M - Hill 6 pass from Wisnieski (Hershman kick)
M - Kevin Makie 39 run (Hershman kick)
KP - Christian Vellante 27 pass from Dillon (kick good)
KP - McDonald 36 pass from Dillon (kick good)
M - Makie 61 run (Hershman kick)
KP - Joe Cochrane 10 pass from Dillon (kick good)

ESPN Boston Week 7 football picks

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
1:28
AM ET
FRIDAY
NO. 23 NEEDHAM (5-1) AT NO. 6 WALPOLE (6-0)
The Skinny: The Rockets received some help in the Bay State Carey race from Natick last week when the Red Hawks came away with a win at Weymouth. However, Needham will need to capitalize on that break with a win over the Herget’s other undefeated entrant. Rockets running back Mike Panepinto continues to be one of the great breakout stories on the year while the Rebels will need to shuffle the deck a little with the loss of Mike Rando, who’ll be out several weeks with an ankle injury. Of course, the Rebels counter with one of the more consistent and underrated linebacker units in the state, led by Cam Hanley and Steve Thulin.

Scott Barboza: Even sans Rando, the Rebels still have enough horses in the barn. Walpole, 26-21.

Hall: Losing Mike Rando, for however long a period of time, hurts. But this Rebels defense is still talented enough to get the job done and slow down Team Panepinto. Walpole, 20-7.

NO. 11 KING PHILIP (6-0) AT MANSFIELD (4-2)
The Skinny: This much anticipated Kelley-Rex matchup features one of the state’s premier defenses against a recharged Hornets offense. Brett McEvoy anchors the Warriors defense, which has surrendered just six points a game through the first six weeks, along with Joe Johnston. Kyle Wisnieski has held down the quarterback position admirably in his first year as starter, but hasn’t stared into a defense quite like that of the Warriors. If he has time to throw, Mike Hershman and Brendan Hill provide big-time targets. Let’s not forget that last year’s installment of this battle was the coming out party of KP quarterback John Dillon, who nearly lifted the Warriors to victory in a second-half comeback bid.

Barboza: Defense wins in big games, right? It’s been a while that the Warriors last had Mansfield’s number, but this is the year. KP, 20-14.

Hall: Can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat. Mansfield, 24-21.

Wakefield (6-0) at Burlington (5-1)
The Skinny: Depending on how Stoneham does this weekend, this one's for at least a share, possibly sole possession of the Middlesex League's Freedom Division (can we just call it Small to alleviate any confusion?). Burlington has had some injuries, but still boast the league's top rushing attack led by Marcus Odiah and Anthony Cruz. They'll meet a Wakefield defense that features a number of playmakers and hasn't allowed a point in 11 quarters. With Dan Cardillo (ankle) gone, there's no real superstar for Wakefield -- but sophomore receiver Bruce Brown will be one to watch, coming off a 124-yard performance last week in a shutout of Wilmington.

Barboza: I’m calling this a split decision. My fan section vote goes to the Red Sea. But the action on the field is dictated differently. Burlington, 8-6.

Hall: This one will be close, and the Warriors might not solve Burlington's rushing attack, but they'll make a big stop late. Wakefield, 17-10.

Mashpee (4-2) at No. 25 Abington (6-0)
The Skinny: This is a battle for sole possession of first place in the South Shore League, with both teams sitting tied atop the league standings at 3-0. The undefeated Green Wave have been getting some terrific defense all season, and feature one of the more unheralded versatile athletes in senior Babila Fonkem. Mashpee stumbled out of the gates, with losses to Nauset and Austin Prep in the first month, but has rebounded with a three-game win streak. Leading the attack have been running backs Malik Lee and Jared Taylor, as well as emerging quarterback Cody Bingham-Hendricks.

Barboza: Fonkem provides the highlight reel plays running and on special teams, but Brian Kilmain and Jack Malafronte give the Green Wave balance. They’re the difference. Abington, 28-20.

Hall: For the first time in three years, I managed to get through our picks on video and our podcast without mentioning my parents are Abington High Class of '79 (self high-five, folks). Don't get it twisted, though, that has nothing to do with why I've soured on Mashpee since the preseason. Abington, 28-17.

NO. 2 EVERETT (5-1) AT BC HIGH (2-3)
The Skinny: The Eagles are finally starting to heal, with starting quarterback Brendan Craven seeing action last week against Marlborough and running back Brandon Owens getting back into the mix. While they’re still missing a couple key cogs on defense, Owens will help bolster BC High’s run defense against Everett’s double-wing-based ground attack. The Crimson Tide also have been nursing some injuries in recent weeks, but Jalen Felix returned for last week’s game at Xaverian and Jakarrie Washington ran for three scores. Gilly De Souza, the glue that holds Everett’s secondary together, continues playing with an ankle injury and didn’t see the offensive side of the ball last week, but he’s remained rock steady (as he has since freshman year) in the kicking game.

Barboza: BC High is pumped and ready for this one, but De Souza provides the game-winning boot late. Everett, 17-14.

Hall: Won't be fooled again. Everett, 24-10.

SATURDAY
XAVERIAN (1-5) AT NO. 21 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM (3-3)
The Skinny: This one has the potential to please fans of power football. The Hawks could go heavy in the backfield with Hunter Taute with Mike Brennan doubtful for this weekend’s game after a late injury in last week’s loss to Everett. Or, the Hawks could air it out behind Austin DeCarr whose hit on touchdown passes of 30-plus yards in each of the last two weeks. The Trojans will look to pound the ball behind breakout sophomore running back Brandon Gallagher and a physical offensive line anchored by Joe MacInnis. Senior quarterback Jordan Cohen also gives B-R the opportunity to strike downfield while rolling out of the pocket.

Barboza: I went with the Hawks last week and promptly was served some humble pie by Everett’s offensive line postgame. I’m sticking with my gut this week. Trojans have controlled this matchup in the last two seasons. B-R, 21-17.

Hall: Historically when the game slows to a ground-and-pound stalemate, the odds favor the Trojans. B-R, 20-10.

No. 18 Leominster (4-2) at No. 20 St. John's of Shrewsbury (4-2)
The Skinny: Back at the start of the season, we pegged this as must-see action to circle on one's calendar. It's still one of the games of the year in Central Mass., and we could even see a rematch come playoff time, but let the facts stand. Leominster and St. John's quickly fell from the Top 10 in the last several weeks; Leominster looked shaky in an upset loss to Wachusett and win over Algonquin, while St. John's has surrendered 100 points total in the last two games.

Barboza: That Pioneers defense tightens some, but just not quite enough to stop the Blue Devils. Leominster, 34-28.

Hall: If there's anything we've learned in the last two weeks, it's that if you can run on St. John's, you can go all Barry Switzer and "hang half a hundred on 'em". Leominster, 40-35.

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